Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 56 Dogs

When our daughter left home to go to college, she gave us a “replacement” to keep us company; Zack, a black German Shepherd puppy. She picked him out of a litter of 9 pups. He was the runt of the litter; lingered at the back of the group, wobbly, skinny, looking sick. She always liked to help out the lest fortunate. We took him straight from the breeder to the vet. He was real sick; stayed there three days. But, he lived. A year past and I called the breeder to thank him for the wonderful dog. He was amazed. All of the other “healthy” puppies had died. A virus had run through the litter. Zack was the sole survivor.

This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.

On the recommendation of a friend, who raised dogs by the dozens, we bought a book by the Monks of New Skete. We followed it to the letter. Zack was held and stroked from the moment we got him. Of course, the care under the veterinarian didn’t hurt. But, we gave him loving; hands-on attention, and he thrived. I think of nursing homes where dogs sometimes visit and the residents stroke the dog’s fur. There is something magic about dogs and human beings. We depend on each other. We get energy from each other. We care about each other. Dogs lick our face. We stroke its back.  It’s the touch – or the caring.

The first night Zack was in our house we put him in the garage for a few minutes. He started to bark as soon as the door shut. We moved him into our bedroom and placed him in a small kennel with an old shoe of mine. The kennel was at the foot of the bed. He never barked at night again. Dogs don’t like to be alone. They are pack animals. They want to be close. For thirteen years he slept in the hall at the entry into the bedroom.

Dogs and people seem to make a perfect match – especially dogs and older people. They are friends, they are company, they are family. When company came, Zack sat silently in the living room and stared into eyes of our visitors. Some called him a Buddhist dog. We never made a scene when we came or went. He never got excited at our coming or going. We raised him by the book. We made one mistake with the dog – we did not socialize him with other dogs when he was a pup. We paid the price. He was never good around other dogs. Not real bad – just a little edgy. It was our fault. I am reminded of a quote by George Attla, a famous musher and dog trainer in Alaska, who said that there was no such thing as a bad dog, only a bad dog owner.

We have a dog park just a few hundred yards from our house. We walk past or through it most every day. Many people gather there to exercise their dogs and to socialize – both themselves and their dogs. It is amazing how many people will stop and talk to you if you have a dog with you. The only thing that opens more doors to conversation is to have a puppy with you. Then the whole world feels free to stop, talk, and stroke the young dog. A person that is new to town and wanting to make contact with people could do no better than to get a dog, preferably a puppy.

My neighbor, retired, has had three dogs over the last 20 years. They walk the dog many times during the day. First he takes the dog for a walk; then she takes the dog for a walk; then he again, then her again. It goes on all day and into the night. They have a little dachshund. They dress it with a sweater in the winter.  When the dog gets older they carry the dog on the trip away from the house and let it walk home. They have paid three hundred dollars in vet bills for one neighbor’s dog; five hundred for another. They care for all the dogs in the neighborhood.

My son’s father-in-law is in his eighties and became very withdrawn. He liked to just sit at home; sit in a chair and either read or watch television. His family worried about him His wife brought home a little dachshund from the pound. In time, he and the dog bonded. It has made, “a world of difference” in his life according to his daughter.  He has a reason to get up. He is much more engaged about everything; more positive; alert, more social. It sits in his lap.  He strokes the dog; talks to the dog. Life is better. 

It has been seven years since our good dog, Zack, died. We did not get another dog. Why? We travel a lot at this stage of our lived, not far, but we do move between two countries every week. It requires that we cross an international boundary.

Another reason we have for no longer having a dog is that our place in the city is right downtown, and up four flights; hard to take a dog up and down, and in and out, living in a condo in the city. People certainly do it. But it doesn’t appeal to us.

If we ever settle down – meaning if we accept that we are done traveling, I think a dog will be in order. There is something about unconditional love – and that is what a dog gives to a person. It could be a great boon to retirement.

This is retirement talk.



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